Talking Points Memo is Pursuing a New Aspect of the Story
By Congressman John Conyers
Saturday, July 2
How do the facts and intelligence get fixed around the policy, as the highest ranking British government officials have alleged the Bush Administration was doing to justify the Iraq war?
One way would be by having the Vice President hover over the shoulders of intelligence analysts. This paragraph caught my eye from a 2003 Washington Post article. Notice how close the wording of the last sentence is to the language in the Downing Street Minutes:
"Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives, according to senior intelligence officials."
You could also pressure your top anti-terrorism expert to cook the books. This from 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl:
"After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.
'Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq,' Clarke said to Stahl. 'And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.
'Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking.'
'I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection.'
Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Clarke then tells Stahl of being pressured by Mr. Bush.
'The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.
'I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'
'He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.'"
But, when all else fails, and you lack that "smoking gun" that could turn into a "mushroom cloud," maybe you just start making stuff up. I am sure many of you follow Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog. Over the last year or so, Mr. Marshall has been asking a question that seems so obviously interesting, one has to wonder why he seems to be one of the only journalists asking it.
We are all now familiar with the President's false statement in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking to buy Uranium from Niger. I trust that all of my readers know that, prior to this address, former Ambassador Joe Wilson was sent to Niger by the Central Intelligence Agency to investigate these claims and the documents purporting to offer support for this allegation. He reported back that he had found no basis for the claims. Shocked that the allegation had found its way into the most important speech a President can give, a speech that constitutes a President's assessment to Congress about the stability and security of the United States, Wilson went public about the falsity of the allegation.
In an effort to smear Wilson and intimidate and other prospective whistleblowers, high ranking Administration officials leaked, in violation of federal law, the name of Wilson's wife and the fact that she was a clandestine operative for the CIA. A grand jury has been impaneled to determine who the leaker or leakers are, and what legal actions should be taken against them. (One journalist is now saying that the leaker was Karl Rove.)
But, as Mr. Marshall has been asking, what about the documents that purported to prove that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Niger, and were later proven to be obvious forgeries? Who forged them, and whose request and why? Mr. Marshall may be closer to the answer . This paragraph caught my eye this morning:
"I've gotten hints or suggestions from several sources over the last month that new information is bubbling to the surface, not about who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, but who was behind the underlying caper that started the whole drama afoot in the first place: those phoney Niger uranium documents."
This is a very big story.